Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Mesa, AZ

  • Published 2022/11/14

You don’t have to spend anything on a visit to Mesa, one of the largest cities in Maricopa County, Arizona.

This city spreads over 133 square miles in south-central Arizona, within the fascinating Sonoran Desert.

A visit to Mesa offers the opportunity to explore a vast natural environment for free.

This city, too, is part of the well-developed Phoenix Metropolitan Area, the largest metro in the southwestern U.S., also known as the Salt River Valley.

Mesa has a long development history; Mormon pioneers founded it in 1878.

Thousands of years before these settlers came, the Native American Hohokam people lived in the region.

These peoples hail back from 300-1500 AD and developed extensive and sophisticated canals to make agriculture viable in the desert.

Many of these canals remain in use today and are among the points of interest in Mesa.

However, there’s more to this city, which you will learn from the following list of free things to do in Mesa.

Paddle along the Lower Salt River

Daytime view of Lower Salt River

Timothy Liam /

You can free float or paddle on the Lower Salt River if you bring your inner tube, canoe, kayak, or paddleboard.

A two-car group is ideal for this trip.

Parking spots are available from the possible river launching spots to endpoints in Mesa.

Several recreational areas in the city provide access to visitors paddling the Lower Salt River.

These spots include the recreational area on Coon Bluff Road and its counterpart to the west on Phon D. Sutton Road.

Kayak boat on Lower Salt River's shore

quitethemike /

Paddlers can also use Mesa’s Goldfield Recreational Area on North Usery Road and the Granite Reef Recreational Area on North Bush Highway.

The Lower Salt River is famous among paddlers in Metro Phoenix because of its accessibility, calm waters, easy route, and beautiful views, including sightings of desert wildlife.

Gorgeous sunset over Lower Salt River

Pritha_EasyArts /

Explore Metro Phoenix via the Rio Salado Pathway

Taking the Rio Salado Pathway lets you experience Mesa and Metro Phoenix’s urban vibe for free.

This careless, paved pathway extends over 19 miles and is designed for walking, running, and biking.

Skateboards, scooters, roller skates, and blades are also allowed on this pathway that traverses canals and freeways.

You can easily access the pathway from Mesa’s city roads near or traversing the Salt River, like States North Alma School Road.

One of the most popular access points to the pathway for bikers is North Dobson Road near the Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Boating Center.

Using the Rio Salado Pathway, you can access Mesa’s Riverview shopping center, Sloan Park, Riverview Park, and Tempe Town Lake.

Meet the Orange Monster at Eastmark Great Park

Visit Eastmark Great Park to experience its Orange Monster, a unique play feature for kids and adults alike.

This fun facility is nearly as big as a football field, spanning about three-quarters of an acre.

The thrill it offers lies in crossing the braided rope net installed on a complex of bright orange steel netting.

For some added fun, six swings and six slides are in place for visitors to enjoy at this park on South Eastmark Parkway.

The experience is gratifying at night when the LED lights of the Orange Monster turn on.

Other park facilities in Eastmark Great Park include a splash pad for kids and adults, an exercise trail, picnic shelters, barbecue grills, a pavilion, a basketball court, a sand volleyball court, and a fishing pond.

Bring your kids to the Orange Monster at Eastmark Great Park!

Tour the Park of the Canals

Welcome sign of the Park of the Canals

Marine 69-71 at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This unique park is along the road corridor of North Horne and stretches about 30 acres.

The National Geographic Society has recognized the Park of the Canals for its essential contribution to Native American history.

The park preserves approximately 4,500 feet of the canals the ancient Hohokam Native Americans constructed.

The Hohokam’s canals measure up to 90 feet wide and ten feet deep at their head gates and extend as far as 16 miles across the desert.

The Park of the Canals provides visitors with a charming botanical garden and several recreational facilities.

The park’s garden features cacti native to the four Arizona deserts and various cacti worldwide.

The recreational facilities in the park include a well-equipped children’s playground, a hiking trail, and covered picnic areas with tables and benches.

Check Out the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum Exhibits

The Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum is one of the features of the seven-acre complex of the Mesa Arts Center on East Main Street.

This museum draws visitors to its five galleries with exhibits that change regularly,

These galleries feature juried and curated works of internationally established and emerging artists.

Art workshops and lectures by distinguished professionals are regularly held at the museum’s 14 classrooms and studios.

Museum visitors can also watch out for the free concerts scheduled at this museum on Thursdays from October to December.

Spend the day at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum.

Enjoy the 2nd Friday Night Out

The 2nd Friday Night Out is an award-winning project of the nonprofit Downtown Mesa Association.

Visitors can watch this event for free every second Friday of the month at West Main Street between South Robson and South Center Street.

Mesa’s downtown businesses and galleries join hands to create a fun evening centered on a free concert.

This TGIF-type event draws many musical artists; slots typically fill up months in advance.

Each 2nd Friday Night Out revolves around a specific theme, such as anime, superheroes, and fiesta.

Hike or Bike the Sun Circle Trail

Aerial view of Sun Circle Trail

Tim Roberts Photography /

You can access the Sun Circle Trail from the Blue Moon Park and Rest Area about a kilometer south of the Park of the Canals on the North Horne road corridor.

Enthusiastic residents of the Salt River Valley established this extensive trail during the 1960s and 1970s.

It extends over 120 miles, passing through much of Mesa and leading to the city’s neighbors like Gilbert and Chandler to the south.

The multi-use Sun Circle Trail is open to mountain bikers, horse riders, hikers, and runners.

Some sections of this trail follow the local roads, and parking is free on designated spaces on its trailheads.

The Sun Circle Trail runs parallel to the Arizona Canal and the Southern and Consolidated Canals.

Take a DIY Tour of Mesa’s Public Art

Capture the character of Mesa at once with a self-guided tour of its downtown public art.

You can easily access a detailed Downtown Guide & Art Walk mapping the city’s public sculptures and murals.

This guide is available at Visit Mesa on West Main Street or the nearby Downtown Mesa Association on North Center Street.

You can also download the guide from their respective websites.

Mesa’s permanent collection of publicly displayed sculptures includes 40 pieces, with new ones being added.

One of these sculptures, called “Big League Dreams,” is near the Visit Mesa office on West Main Street.

This three-piece sculpture of boys playing baseball is partly sponsored by the Chicago Cubs, which train in Mesa during spring.

More than a dozen murals featuring various artists are also on the walls of some buildings in Downtown Mesa.

One rendition pays homage to the famous neon signs gracing the downtown mesa’s night sky.

See these fantastic examples of public art in downtown Mesa.

Join the Mesa Market Place Swap Meet

Bring your collectibles to barter at the Mesa Market Place Swap Meet on East Baseline Road.

This event typically starts on Friday weekends from September to May.

This event takes over a mile of East Baseline Road, featuring 1,600 shopping spaces.

A vast array of merchandise is available for swap or purchase during this event.

Visitors can browse clothing, fishing gear, décor, cosmetics, plants, authentic Native American collectibles, crystals, rocks, and many more.

The Mesa Market Place Swap Meet offers free admission, parking, and live entertainment.

Let the Kids Enjoy Mesa’s Riverview Park

Waters of Riverview Park

Antonia Gerard /

The unique playgrounds are a signature of Mesa’s 209 public parks.

You can find many of them in the kid-friendly Riverview Park.

This park provides two playground clusters, one designed for children two to five years old and the other for kids six to 12 and above.

Additional thrills for kids include the multiple water features of the park’s spray ground.

They can also enjoy climbing the 50-foot tall Genesis tower, and the 60-footer caterpillar mesh rope set up in the park.

Aerial view of Riverview Park

Manuel Ontiveros /

Riverview Park provides covered picnic areas with tables, restrooms, and extensive Rio Salado Pathway access.

With an Arizona fishing license available for a reasonable fee, park visitors can also fish in the Riverview Park Lake.

The potential catch in the lake includes rainbow trout, channel catfish, largemouth bass, tilapia, red-ear sunfish, bluegill, hybrid sunfish, and carp.

Sloan Park, the spring training ballfield of the Chicago Cubs, is another attraction in Riverview Park.

Hunt for Treasures via Mesa GeoTours

Make your visit to mesa an exciting hide-and-seek adventure through the city’s unique GeoTours.

Download an app from the Visit Mesa website for a guide on finding ten geocaches in farms and agritourism destinations in Mesa and its region.

Upon completing the quest, you can drop by the Mesa Visitor Center for a unique souvenir celebrating your exploration.

Besides this foodie-themed tour activity, you can choose the GeoTour centered on Mesa’s city parks and autism centers.

Souvenir items from the Mesa Visitor are also awarded to those who complete this activity.

Throw Horseshoes in Pioneer Park

Children at Pioneer Park's playground

Tawnya92 /

Located on East Main Street, the 17.8-acre Pioneer Park provides one of the top-rated horseshoe courts in the Phoenix metro area.

The park’s horseshoe area is free; it’s so popular that players must reserve it one week in advance.

Pioneer Park’s popularity extends to its treehouse play structures and to a 15-footer water wall and splash pad.

The historic train of Pioneer Park

Tawnya92 /

In addition, the park offers a 9,000-square-foot playground with sections of wood fiber and rubber surfaces, plus a separate sand play area and toddler swings.

Visitors can also reserve covered picnic ramadas, some of which are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Its two lighted basketball courts, monuments, historic train, and a 500-foot suspension bridge further add to the charm of Pioneer Park.

Pioneer monument at Pioneer Park

Marine 69-71, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take Free Dancing Lessons at Denim & Diamonds

Located on East Main Street, Denim & Diamonds is a country music nightclub popular among locals and visitors for its free dance lessons.

This nightclub offers these freebie dance instructions in the early evening every Wednesday and Thursday.

Wednesdays are also special, with a free cover charge from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and just 50 cents for ladies’ drinks.

Likewise, Denims & Diamonds offers a free cover charge before 8:00 p.m. on Saturdays, with affordable drinks.

Besides DJs, this club also features live musicians, typically on Fridays.

Visit the Falcon Field Airport

Daytime view of Falcon Field Airport

NicolasVC /

Enjoy sights of plane takeoffs and landings at the Falcon Field Airport Viewing Area on Power and Ray roads.

You can access this facility from the airport’s parking lot via a sidewalk adorned with runway markings.

It provides benches fronting the view fence and picnic tables with chairs.

The viewing area features grass turf, colorful shade shelters, and airplane-shaped seats for kids.

You can get free toy gliders at the terminal’s office, which kids can fly on the small runway on the lawn.

Watch for the charitable events hosted by aviation and pilot groups in the Falcon Field Airport.

A plane over Falcon Field Airport

NicolasVC /

Other Things to Do Nearby

Join a Hackathon at the Gangplank at Queen Creek

Gangplank is a collaborative community workspace in Queen Creek, Arizona, 27 minutes from Mesa.

Creative minds flock to Gangplank every second Monday of each month for a free craft competition.

This friendly contest’s projects revolve around a theme in its monthly editions.

The winners are judged on the same day and awarded trophies displayed at Gangplank.

Final Thoughts

With a bit of resourcefulness and creativity, you can find plenty of activities and attractions that don’t cost a dime.

Bookmark this page for inspiration for a more affordable visit to this city.

Discover the free things to do in Mesa, Arizona!

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